The frantic midtown Manhattan street was an uproar of busy buses, cranky cab drivers and determined pedestrians. One by one, mom and pop flipped their signs from closed to open, just in time for the blitz of professionals expecting coffee and their morning paper. A delicate fog caressed the tip tops of lonely skyscrapers and drifted swiftly in the breeze that skimmed off the Hudson. Messengers on bikes expertly weaved their way down the crowded street, in and out of the crawl of delivery vans, police cars and construction workers. Doormen hailed cabs for late tenants and shop owners swept the front walks. 7:01:32 a.m. Business as usual.
7:01:33 a.m. Time stopped. Everything froze. No wind. No sound. No movement at all. Birds suspended in animation. Hot coffee hung like a rope, mid-pour between pot and cup. Even the steam swirling from the manhole covers ceased rising, creating eerie ghostlike shapes over the street.
Lying on an ancient wrought iron bench, beneath a warn out old overcoat, was a man. A second ago, the man was invisible to the hurried passersby. Just another bum sleeping off last night's whiskey. No one had noticed how or when the man had gotten there. Too busy.
With a swoosh, the man threw off the overcoat, raised it over his head and, like a cowboy about to rope a calf at the rodeo, swung it in a wide circle. He released it and watched as it flew through the air and landed on a woman sleeping a few benches down. The man wore a robe extending down to his feet. A broad golden sash at his waist. His hair was as white as snow.
He blinked and was instantly across the street standing next to a petrified street vendor who had been about to hand a young woman a pastry cake. The woman was dressed in a couture business suit, a thick briefcase in one hand and the other extended toward the vendor, clutching a five dollar bill. The man with the white hair blinked again and the bill became a hundred dollar bill. The man touched the arm of the vendor and the business woman, whispered something in an ancient language and disappeared.
Time started again.
"Thanks, Joe," the woman says as she hastily grabbed for the pastry.
"No problem," the man replied as he took the bill from her, "Hey, Lucy, I know you're busy and all, but I was wondering if you wanted to, you know, maybe come to my Tuesday night bible study, you know, if you're not too busy or anything?" he asked nervously.
"Oh thanks, Joe, that's very sweet, but, with the presentation to the board of directors tomorrow morning, I have to really stay focused for the next 24 hours," Lucy said as she began to move backwards. "Keep the change, Joe. See you tomorrow." she added already out of reach of any reply.
Joe wondered why in the world he had decided to ask Lucy to bible study. The notion had never crossed his mind before. It just sort of came out. He looked down at the bill Lucy had given him. A hundred? He looked up to see Lucy taking the first step down the stairs to the subway.
With the eye of a quarterback, Joe quickly looked over his options. There was a policeman across the street. No, the cop would ask too many questions. How about Vinny the Magician who was setting up shop a little earlier than usual. No way. He'd have the cart broken down and sold for parts in 5.3 seconds. He turned around. Walking towards him was a guy he recognized. He had given the man his leftover pastries a few times in the past. The man walked as he usually did, a slight limp, head down and covered by the hood of his dirty sweatshirt. Joe covered the short distance between them and took the man's arm.
"Hey brother, I'm kinda in a pickle here. Could you, you know, watch over my stand for a minute?" Without lifting his head, the man nodded and Joe said, "Thanks, man, it'll just take a sec." Joe began to sprint in the direction of the subway. At the stairs, he turned to see the guy standing behind the cart, head still down. Joe took the stairs two at at time, scaling the last four in a single bound. At the bottom of the stairs he excitedly scanned the subway station. He spotted Lucy standing next to a support column to his left. Lucy saw him and waved. He walked to her.
A little out of breath, Joe said, "Hey there, Lucy, you gave me a hundred dollar bill, you know, by mistake."
Lucy looked down to her purse and noticed that the five she had placed in the clip of her cell phone the night before was still there. She held it up. "Would you look at that? So much for detailed planning."
They exchanged bills and Lucy said, "Thank you so much, Joe."
"No problem," Joe replied.
As Joe turned to walk away, Lucy looked down at the hundred she held. Looking up she said, "Hey, Joe, what time did you say that bible study was?"
Joe stopped, turned around with a beaming smile and replied, "Six-thirty in the old YMCA building at the corner of 42nd and 11th."
Lucy looked down at the bill, then back to Joe, "I'll see you there."
Just as Joe had entered the stairwell to find Lucy, the man behind the pastry cart smiled. He reached up with both hands and lifted the hood from his head, revealing hair white as snow. He grabbed the spatula in one hand and a bag in the other and called out, "Pastries anyone?"